Partner M. Carey Thomas
101 W Monument St, Baltimore, MD 21201
Evergreen Museum & Library, 4545 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21210, Stati Uniti
Green Mount Cemetery, 1501 Greenmount Ave, Baltimore, MD 21202, Stati Uniti
Mary Elizabeth Garrett (5 March 1854 - 3 April 1915) was an American suffragist and philanthropist. She was the youngest child and only daughter of John W. Garrett, a philanthropist and president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B. & O.). M. Carey Thomas, president of Bryn Mawr College and a redoubtable lady if ever there was one, chose as her life's loves two women, with some overlap. As a student in Switzerland in the early 1880s, she formed with her Baltimore friend Mamie Gwinn what they both considered a marriage. They lived together, loved each other passionately, and left a record of kisses exchanged and heads nestled in laps. By the time Thomas became president of Bryn Mawr in 1894, she was also in love with another Baltimore friend, Mary Elizabeth Garrett, who in addition was her financial patron. Unable to give up Gwinn's “little love” for the intense and fully requited passion of Garrett, Thomas carefully arranged the two women's comings and goings so they did not have to meet, although they of course knew of each other. But what is particularly striking about Thomas's story is the way she bridged the worlds of romantic friendship and homosexuality. For she read about lesbianism, including sexual acts between women, she admired and followed the trial of Oscar Wilde, and she kept lists of books labeled “Lesbianism” and “Books on Sapphism.” While she shared a bed with the woman she loved, as had countless romantic friends, she also read texts that linked love between women and sexuality. Yet Thomas seemingly never took in any negative portrayals of lesbianism, never expressed any guilt or unease.
Well-known for her "coercive philanthropy," Mary Garrett donated money to start the Johns Hopkins University Medical School in 1893 on the condition that the school would accept female students "on the same terms as men." She founded the Bryn Mawr School, a private college-preparatory school for girls in Baltimore and generously donated to Bryn Mawr College of Pennsylvania with the requirement that her intimate friend, Martha Carey Thomas be the president. Like many other suffragists of the nineteenth century, Garrett chose not to marry; instead, she kept a lifelong working and emotional relationship with Martha Carey Thomas. In her later years, she collaborated with her longtime friends, Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw, to try and secure the right for women to vote in the United States.
Mary Elizabeth Garrett was born in Baltimore, Maryland on March 5, 1854. Both of Mary's parents, John W. Garret and Rachel Ann Harrison, came from prominent and wealthy Baltimore families. Mary was the only daughter and youngest child of John W. Garrett. She was the favored child of the family, and her father often said, “I wish Mary had been born a boy!” purportedly because he felt that Mary's potential was being suppressed by social barriers against women at the time.
Mary Garrett was raised in a wealthy household. After her father was elected president of B&O Railroad, the Garrets moved into a mansion in Mount Vernon Place. Although living in a luxurious house in the most prosperous part of Baltimore, Garrett had a lonely and unhappy childhood. Her youngest brother was 5 years older than her, and the age difference made it difficult for her to connect with her brothers. Moreover, according to her memoir, she had serious trouble with the bone of her right ankle until she received effective treatment at the spas of Cape May.
Garrett learned about charitable works in her young age as both her parents and grandparents were involved in philanthropy. Furthermore, she eavesdropped on her father's conversations with famous politicians and businessmen at home, during the Civil War. She was also greatly influenced by other Maryland women, who offered significant assistance to Union soldiers during the Civil War by providing water, refreshments and nursing care.
Evergreen Museum & Library, 4545 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21210
Garrett went to Miss Kummer's school when she was twelve. At school, she met two lifelong friends, Julia Rebecca Rogers, nicknamed "Dolly" and Elizabeth King, nicknamed "Bessie." Both Dolly and Bessie were from well-known families associated with the Garrett family in Baltimore. Dolly was the daughter of a steel magnate and became the legal ward of John W. Garrett after her father's death. Bessie, from a famous Quaker family, was the daughter of an associate of Mary's father. Mary was initially excited about school life and enjoyed it, but she gradually got bored because of her school's conservative stances toward girls' education. The school principal, who once had a very good relationship with Mary, believed "in cultivation, not in college." Also, the school restricted girls from studying science. In response to the restrictive school policy, the three girls formed their own study group to learn biological science, and dissected a rat to everyone's horror. Disappointed with the lackluster experiences of school education, Mary quit school at age seventeen and never returned to school in the following years. She preferred to teach herself at home and read literary classics. With only self-education, she learned to speak fluent Italian and French and practiced German and Greek.
Adolescence was not a period of comfort and happiness for Garrett. She felt uncomfortable with the Victorian expectations of women at the time and was also uncomfortable with the attitude towards sex in her family. Every family member avoided sex-related topics on purpose, and she had to teach herself about puberty.
Garrett showed interests in business and managed her personal business matters by herself during this time period. Given a weekly allowance of five to ten dollars per week, she kept record of all expenses in her notebook. Besides, she kept all the letters from her relatives and friends, including Julia and Elizabeth.
Garrett also kept a diary, which was given to her by the philanthropist and longtime friend of the Garret family, George Peabody, the respectable founder of the Peabody Institute and George Peabody Library in Baltimore.
After leaving school, Garrett continued to learn from her father about commerce and the operation of a railroad company, later serving as his secretary.
Garrett and her friends, including M. Carey Thomas, Mamie Gwinn, Elizabeth “Bessie” King, and Julia Rogers, were known as the “Friday Evening” because of their bi-weekly meetings on Friday nights. "The Friday Evening," originally a book club and study group, aimed to improve girls' education and was active until 1895. Through collective effort, the members of "The Friday Evening" started the Bryn Mawr School for Girls in Baltimore, 1885. It was an elite preparatory institution for girls, named after the famous women's college, Bryn Mawr College of Pennsylvania. Garrett was the major financial supporter of the new school.
Bryn Mawr School for Girls in Baltimore
Later on, Garrett shifted her focus to medical education. At the age of 22, she requested special permission from Daniel Coit Gilman, the first president of the Johns Hopkins University, to enroll in Johns Hopkins University, but was denied entrance due in part to her status as a woman. However, her opportunity to establish justice came soon after. When the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine was under construction in the late nineteenth century, the school board quickly ran out of the original endowment from Johns Hopkins. Garrett and her friends founded the Women’s Medical School Fund Committee and promised to make up for the deficit provided that women were accepted "on the same terms as men." The condition was accepted by the school board, and since then, medical education had become more and more accessible to females. Garrett was also hugely involved in Women's suffrage movement, working with her friends Anna Howard Shaw, Julia Ward Howe, and Susan B. Anthony and serving as a major benefactor of the movement.
Garret spent her final years at the Bryn Mawr College with M. Carey Thomas. Thomas and Garrett shared the same campus home, "the Deanery" at Bryn Mawr.
Garrett was heavily involved in the Women's Suffrage Movement in her adulthood. She hosted the National American Woman Suffrage Association's 1906 convention in her Mount Vernon home. Attendees included Baltimore college women and notable suffragists, like Susan B. Anthony.
She also served as the financial chair of the National College Equal Suffrage League from 1908 to 1914. Garrett continued to donate heavily to the suffrage movement, giving $10,000~$20,000 annually, and actively participated in Women's Suffrage events, such as the 1912 Baltimore suffrage parade. Women in the United States were lawfully given the right to vote five years after Garrett's death.
Green Mount Cemetery, Baltimore, MD
Garrett died at Bryn Mawr College of leukemia on April 3, 1915, at age 61. She was buried in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery, next to her father. She left most of her funds and properties including the Mount Vernon mansion to M. Carey Thomas in her will.
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